Tuesday

Conversations with Dead Geniuses: Mozart, Part 3

Mozart - Part 3 - "What about music?"


Part 1 is HERE
Part 2 is HERE

 If you could play just one of your favorite songs... for Mozart... 
What would you choose?





"How can that be?"  Mozart asked after a pretty long pause.

How would you explain...
Mozart and I were standing on the front balcony of my home, a corner apartment overlooking the boats in Marina Del Rey.  Christie had fed us a lovely chicken dinner shortly after we got home.  She had already determined that this odd little man was one of the most committed actors I had ever brought home, and had long since gone to bed.  Across the water, the glow of the city warmed the sky from beneath, but Mozart was looking higher, almost straight up at the flashing navigation lights of a 737 headed East from LAX.  I had just told him there were about 150 souls aboard.
Tough question to answer for a man who died in 1790.  Where do you even start?   The combustion engine?  The Wright brothers?
...all of this...
I also had a more immediate concern.  The static tingle of a building plasma burst was raising the hair on my arms as it gathered force in the air just beyond this balcony.  If Mozart felt it, he probably just thought it was another bizarre aspect of everyday life in my world.  But I knew what it was.  I had seen it before.  Whatever had brought him to this time and place was coming back for him very soon.  Maybe in just minutes.
I decided the best way to answer any question from here on would be to just yank off the band-aid in one motion.
"You're in the future,  about 250 years after you were born."
Mozart looked down at the glass of Napa cabernet in his hand, then emptied it down his throat as I continued.
"It was some time around your era, Mozart... a discovery was made that changed everything."
...and this...
I reached for the bottle, the second one we had opened since dinner, and refilled his glass.  He took another overfull mouth of wine and held it in his mouth like a squirrel stocking up on wine for the winter.  He swallowed it in stages as he listened to me.
"There is an invisible force all around us, all the time, very powerful.  We can't see it, except when it flashes in the sky as lightning."
"Lightning?"  Finally, something he understood.
"Yes.  Electricity is only one of many invisible fields that move all around and through us, through everything, all the time.  Constantly flowing.  In the last 200 years or so... mankind has discovered that these forces exist, and we have learned to harness them and use them for purposes that must seem to you like..."
"Magic."  He watched the unnatural lights of Los Angeles.  "Is that how you brought me here?"
"I didn't bring you here.  The truth is, I don't know how you got here.  I'm afraid time travel is still beyond us."
...and this...
"That's comforting to know." He drained his glass again.  "It seems that this is happening to you as much as it is to me."  Then Mozart turned to look me in the eye.  "Why do you think I am here?  For your benefit?  Or mine?"
Now it was my turn to look at the boats.
"I think it's just a conversation."
"Conversation?"
 "It's a chance for you to see what's become of the world since your time.  And a chance for me to hear what you think of it."
"It has become crowded, loud, and frightening.  Can I go now?"
"I'm sorry.  I don't control when you come and go."
"What about music?" It seemed like a question he had been considering for a while now, but was afraid of what the answer might be.  "In your carriage, before, the music in the air?  Was that..." he sifted rapidly through all the bizarre things he had seen and heard.  "...harnessed lightning?"
...and anything else you can think of...
I nodded.
"Through the power of electricity," I explained, "it is possible to capture a performance and listen to it as many times as you like."
Mozart's brow crinkled at the impossible wizardry and the mind expanding possibilities of what I had just said.  "Capture?"
I regarded him for just a moment as the energy in the air continued to move the hairs on my arm like iron filings near a magnet.  Then, I dug into my pocket for my iPhone.
I explained the earbuds to him as I searched through a library of music far larger than the one I used to have in the pre-digital era, when collecting vinyl records was the prime motivator of my life.
I didn't say anything else, no further set up.  I just selected Serenade No. 13 for strings.  "Eine Klein Nachtmusik," a song I sometimes listen to as I'm falling asleep,  a gorgeous, delicate melody by W.A. Mozart.
I hit "play."  The song was recorded in the 1990's by the London Philharmonic, but he didn't know that.  All he knew was that I held his music in the palm of my hand.
After a few moments, as tears of wonder flowed down his peculiar angel's face, I gently removed the ear buds.
"You still know my music."  He was grateful, humbled, and awed.
"Anyone in the world can have this or any music with them, any time they want."
"What else?"  His fear vanished in the face of undreamt possibilities opening right in front of him.  "What more has electricity done for music?"
In my living room was a 50 inch plasma TV.   I knew we only had minutes left.  A half-hour at the most.
It was tuned to CNN.  Mayhem and death delivered in high definition by a stern man in the box.  I quickly changed the channel.
...to Mozart...
"What was that?"  Even five seconds of that was pretty frightening.  Not exactly the glimpse of the world I wanted him to see.
"Those people are not inside the box.  It is just like my phone only it brings captured images as well as sound.
"My God."
I could hear the static crackle of the impending event, the plasma flash that would take Mozart away.  I regretted the time I wasted letting him get more comfortable.  Of course, this conversation and this moment were why he was here. There was no time left.
I jammed the connecting cable into my phone and tapped the little icon for youtube.
Music.   What had electricity brought to music?
I talked quickly as I searched.
"Besides the ability to record sound, electricity also allowed for amplification."
"Amplification."  He repeated the word like a student at a lecture.

...in only a few minutes.
"When you had your largest audience, how did you make sure everyone could hear?"
His answers came quickly.  "More instruments, compositions that might feature bass notes and percussion that could shake the room.  Hundreds could watch and listen."
"Yes."  I scrolled as fast as I could.  "Now imagine all the bass you would need, but  played by one person.  All the percussion, played by one person.  All the strings, by one person.  And a vocalist of any style could project his voice to audiences of... how big would you guess?"

He was right with me.  His mind no doubt clawing at the cage of his past experience to witness what these new truths could possibly mean.  "Hundreds?"  He asked.  Then thought better.  " a thousand?"
Of all the music in the little box I held in my hand... virtually every song ever recorded...  I had time for maybe just one song to play, one song to show him.  To show Mozart, for God's sake.  If I had more time I would start with Ken Burn's 10 hour documentary on "Jazz."  I would play Elvis records.  We'd go through the rise and fall of the Beatles... Everything.  "Thriller." "Purple Rain."  If it were my favorite bands it would be U2 or... what about Rush?  Mozart would love Rush.  
But what song?  What had electricity brought?  
No.   It was not one song.  As I frantically typed in the search, I knew.  One song is not what electricity had brought.  Electricity had brought intimacy through raw power.   Electricity had brought the composers and the musicians to the people in a way Mozart would understand right away.  A way he would love.  In the way he would use if this were his time.  
Mozart had composed for kings and popes, but he had also composed vaudevilles for the people.  Electricity had made the sheer joy of music accessible to everyone.  All at once.  If he could only see one thing that electricity had brought to music, he should see great musicians ride that harnessed lighting before not just thousands, but everyone.  
The world.  All together watching one thing.  One performance that answered Mozart's question as best as I could.
What had electricity done for music?  Here's what I showed him.


As the video played, I saw Mozart's face go blank with pure wonder, his eyes darting between the instruments creating the sound, the unfathomable audience, and Freddie Mercury holding them all so lovingly in the palm of his hand.  
With the song nearly over, I rushed from the living room back into my office.  There was no time to waste, and I knew he would want to try just once.  I grabbed my stratocaster and my practice amp, nearly pulling the plate from the wall as I yanked out the plug.
The video stopped.  Mozart stared at the frozen image of the audience.  Tears of awe at the sights and sounds of beauty as only he could truly appreciate.  Then he looked over to me at last and saw what I had brought.
I held the black Strat out to him.  He took it in his hands, recognizing how it would work right away.  Essentially it was an oversized violin.  He touched the fret board and the strings rang muted and nearly silent as I feverishly jabbed the plug at the wall socket behind the couch.
Suddenly, power.  Sound.  Mozart had seen Brian May playing this instrument in the video.  There was no hesitation.  Within seconds he was playing Queen's "Hammer to Fall" from memory after one hearing.  Instinctively he was aware of the ingredient I was withholding out of respect for the neighbors and my sleeping wife.
"Louder."  He said.
I reached for the master volume and gave him a little.  He saw which button it was and reached for it himself.
"Louder!"  He yelled and he really cranked it.
The sound was sublime.  He took the major A of that Queen song and seamlessly broke the components of the chords into stunning runs and arpeggios, all blasting through the distorted amp. 
Eyes closed, head tilted back, Mozart held harnessed lightning in his hands and he knew it.  He felt it.  
It was my turn to stand transfixed in awe.  What he did to that simple song was more Randy Rhodes classical than Jimi Hendrix blues.  Soon he moved his right hand onto the fret board and began pulling new sounds with both hands as if playing a piano.  If there was time, I could show him Van Halen too.  And Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald....
But there was no time left.  
The plasma flash lit up my living room for a split second. The black Strat, played just the moment before as it never had been and never wound be again, fell to the floor with a loud clatter and screech of feedback.
I picked it up, just as Christie sprinted into the room in her pajamas and a state of shock.
"It's one o'clock in the morning!  Have you lost your mind?!"
She noticed the sad look on my face as I turned down the volume on the screeching amplifier.
"Hey...?  Where's Mozart?"

4 comments:

  1. So sad. She always misses it, doesn’t she? She simply needs to go on faith in her husband.

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  2. Lol, Debra, it is rather uncanny how that always happens.

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  3. Very nice, Steve. It's a shame Herr Mozart won't be around for the upcoming party -- would've loved to drink some wine with him and chat about random stuff.

    I hate those ill-timed plasma flashes. Thanks for doing your best to keep him away from crap like Ke$ha and other auto-tuned drivel before he was stolen away.

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  4. Loved it- series? Who is the next genius? I Want more!

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